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Friday, 27 March 2020

5th. Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

 5th. Sunday of Lent (A)
(Ezekiel 37:12-14; St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)

In our Gospel reading we heard how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  However, despite the fact that Lazarus’ sisters -- Martha and Mary -- had sent a note telling Him of their brother's sickness, Jesus had, nevertheless, remained where He was for two days, with the result that He only arrived at the sisters’ home some four days after Lazarus’ body had been put in the tomb, when it was, of course, expected to be already smelling of corruption.  Jesus had very deliberately kept away until there could be no possible doubt that Lazarus was dead.  Why?  Obviously, He had some reason and, equally obviously, that reason had to be extremely important because Martha and Mary, dear friends of Jesus, had been caused much suffering and grief.  Let us find out something of that reason.

The Son of God had become Man only after the Jewish people had been guided and prepared over two thousand years to hope, long, and pray, for the coming of the Messiah.  And having become Son of Man, Jesus was now having to prepare His disciples for His own death: He needed to deepen their hope that, though He should die to this earth, they would still be able to appreciate and, as it were, ‘contact’ Him beyond the grave in the glory of His heavenly Father.  It was absolutely essential that they should have such ‘beyond-death-hope’ in Him, because, just as Israel of old -- alone of all mankind -- had hoped and prayed for His first coming as Messiah, so the Church -- the new People of God -- might be uniquely empowered and enabled, in this sinful world, to hope and pray for His present and abiding help before His ultimate return in glory as Lord of all creation and Judge of mankind; for, without such hope, the ultimate Gift of God – the most Holy Spirit -- could not be given.  If their faith in Jesus were to flower into divine charity, it had to be accompanied by an enduring hope preparing them to fittingly receive and embrace the coming of the Holy Spirit; therefore, Jesus behaved as we have heard in order to instil and root this hope-beyond-death into their hearts and minds.  This apparent human neglect on the part of Jesus was, therefore, an essential element in His preparation of the disciples for their mission to proclaim His Good News to the whole world.

Jesus said to (Martha), "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?" 

Notice that Jesus did not simply state that He had power over life and death as the miracle of bringing Lazarus back to life would soon show.  A right appreciation of the nature of that power was necessary for the sisters who, as I have just said, had suffered so much from Jesus’ absence in their time of need; but – above all -- a right and indeed most profound appreciation of Jesus’ exercise of power had to be unforgettably implanted in the minds and hearts of  His future apostles.  That is why He declared so emphatically to Martha:

I am (that is, eternally) the resurrection and the life.

Let us now just stop our progress and consider the fact that Jesus deliberately allowed Lazarus to die and his sisters to suffer without comfort from Himself.  Surely this can tell us something about the question that inevitably troubles many Christians: why is suffering -- apparently at times both meaningless and purposeless – still to be found in the lives of good Christian people?

Jesus’ own death was close at hand; had He not prepared His disciples to hope beyond death His subsequent Resurrection would not have been rightly understood, and His most Holy Spirit could not have been poured into such closed hearts and uncomprehending minds, with the result that His Gospel might never have been proclaimed as the Good News for all mankind.  However, because of the indisputable death and the manifestly public raising of Lazarus from the tomb, an appreciation of the ultimate purpose, meaning, and significance of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection, was being prepared: here Jesus’ disciples could begin to appreciate Him as the Lord of LIFE in its fullest meaning: life that begins with the cradle, extends through death, and blossoms into eternity:

I am the resurrection and the life.

Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

The suffering of Martha and Mary was their share in the forthcoming Passion and Death of Jesus, a sharing that would further His supreme purpose of giving glory to His Father and winning salvation for mankind: it was a solemn example of the significance and glory of Christian suffering.  The phrase ‘offer it up with Jesus’ used to be a commonplace expression of suffering piety that could – too often at times – be almost trite and blasphemous, but its sublime meaning and significance can be learnt from the sufferings which Jesus willed for His dear friends, Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary.

            I am the resurrection and the life.

Jesus said that because, those who would henceforth believe in Him, those in whom His Spirit could thereby make His home, would never die the death of fallen mankind, for Jesus, dwelling in them through His Spirit, is eternally the resurrection and the life.

He then went on to say to Martha:

            Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.

Having entered the world through human sinfulness, death could neither claim nor hold Jesus the Holy One of God.  Jesus chose to die for love of His Father and on our behalf, in order that when death would prove to be unable to hold Him -- the Resurrection and the Life -- His rising to life again would mean the destruction of death’s power over sin and death and provide the opportunity for all who would henceforth live by faith in Him, to receive His Spirit and be prepared thereby to share in His victory and participate in His eternal blessedness in heaven.

I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

We belong to Jesus through faith, therefore the only question for those who turn to Him is “do I believe in Jesus' words firmly enough to hope in Him through and beyond death?” 

Don't imagine that such a hope is impossible or foolish.   Listen to St. Paul again:

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.

Pleasure, pride and power, seem to offer something delightful, something exciting and promising, to those who are young enough, foolish enough, or evil enough, to become hooked on them; and those who have grown old in such addictions -- like inveterate gamblers who never lose hope of a big win and can frequently be found still risking their money, for example, despite the fact that, with death close at hand, no win could afford them either comfort or security; like those who, delighting in the flesh never give up hoping for further pleasure no matter how old and ugly they may have become: they still seek to remember past pleasures again and again, even though the memory of such things is being gradually smothered by the increasing pains of an approaching, and sinful, death.

Such radical and ultimate frustration, however, was no part of God’s original plan for human kind, and therefore there are other people, many other people who, as St. Paul tells us, are being made more authentic and more fulfilled as human beings by their faith in Jesus:

Live according to the Spirit, (and) set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Yes, People of God -- we servants of the Lord -- are called to learn from the Gospel and to root our lives in Christian hope, hope in Him Whose promises are unfailing and Whose power is eternal.  No matter what the situation may be, People of God, hope in the Lord, for He is able and willing, to help and to save us no matter what our difficulties might be; and if Jesus should will some of His servants to suffer, it is always an invitation to share more closely with Him in His work of salvation.  Even though He may seem to delay -- as indeed was the case for Martha and Mary --  His apparent absence is for our greater good: He is wanting to form us more and more in His own likeness for the Father, so that we  too, in Him and with Him, might overcome not only the world and its blandishments, but also Satan himself, together with His principalities and powers, who vaunt themselves over fallen mankind with the threat of death.  For, the death of a true believer in Jesus, one in whom the Spirit of God has made His home, is not like the anxious, painful, leaving-behind-death of a sinner; rather it is filled with a hope which Jesus Himself expressed on hearing of Lazarus' passing away:

            This death is for the glory of God.

Jesus shared our death, and by embracing it for love of His Father He destroyed the dark shroud of abandonment, sorrow, and despondency which had come to envelope the world.  His rising to life again offers us the glorious hope of sharing with Him in the life and blessedness of heaven: a sharing which will fulfil beyond all measure our deepest longings and aspirations, a sharing wherein heaven will be our dearest home, and God's  presence, the embrace of the One Who is our truest Father. 

People of God what makes you a true disciple of Jesus is not so much whether you keep ‘the rules’ but whether you have the Spirit, as St. Paul said:

            Unless you possess the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

However, we can only possess the Spirit if we allow Him to make His home in us and direct our ways.  Therefore, when Jesus -- Who is the Resurrection and the Life -- says to us, as He did to Martha:

Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

then, we too must let the Spirit within us give answer and, setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, reply wholeheartedly with Martha:                            

Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.

Faith, hope, and charity are, as you well know, the three theological virtues, and -- as St. Paul tells us -- the greatest of these is charity because charity persists and flowers in heaven.  Here on earth we cannot practice charity without confessing faith and cherishing hope: because it is faith that determines Whom we love supremely and into Whose likeness we are to be formed, while it is hope that enables us to persevere and grow into loving God and our neighbour with authentic Charity

I am the resurrection and the life: by faith we acknowledge and confess those two words of Jesus, I am; by hope, we embrace the promise He offers us when He speaks of  the resurrection and the life; and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we grow in the supreme virtue of charity as we try to live our life on earth in accordance with the light of that enduring confession of faith and the confidence of that unshakeable hope.